OXNARD, Calif. – Take a cursory look around the Cowboys' practice fields, and it's hard not to feel optimistic about Randy Gregory's future in the NFL.
Watch the rookie defensive end during practice, and he's being coached by Rod Marinelli – a pass rush guru who Gregory himself said he was star struck to meet this past spring. The linemen he's working with include nine-year veterans like Jeremy Mincey and Pro Bowlers like Greg Hardy.
If that weren't enough, consider Gregory's pre-practice routine this past Friday, when he took pass rush tips from not one, but two key members of the Cowboys' championship defenses of the 90's – Leon Lett and Charles Haley.
Factor all of that together, and Gregory isn't worried one bit that he "fell" all the way into the Cowboys' hands at pick No. 60 in May.
"The first thing people talk about is the loss of the money. I don't play this sport for the money, I play it because I enjoy the game, I love the game – that's really it," he said. "Other than that, I believe I'm with a good organization, so whether I was the first pick or the 60th pick, it doesn't matter. I'm with a good organization now."
It may not have come to pass, to hear it from Gregory. When he met with Cowboys officials before the NFL draft, the Nebraska standout said head coach Jason Garrett put him on the spot.
"He pretty much said I wasn't tough," Gregory said. "That was pretty much within like the first 10 minutes of meeting him. In my head, I'm like, 'You're telling me I'm not tough. You're crazy. I know I'm tough. I'm playing this sport.'
That might have rubbed Gregory the wrong way from the start, but it was business as usual for Garrett – who said it was standard procedure for his pre-draft interviews.[embeddedad0]
"Not only do I do it but the position coaches, the coordinators and everybody who has a chance to be with these guys, we try to do the same thing really to find out what they're all about," he said.
Gregory understands that now, and he's embraced it. That much was evident when the Cowboys finally selected him 60th overall and Gregory told Marinelli how hard he wanted to be pushed.
"I've always been used to that coach that's going to get on you and expect the best out of you, so being drafted to a team with him on the staff is perfect for me," he said. "That's something we talked about when we met with the team is I really want him to push me, and he agreed to it also."
If the coaching wasn't tough, the competition surely will be. The Cowboys have gone through two padded practices, and Gregory has shown flashes. But for every flash, there's a learning experience – like his battles with Tyron Smith, which have largely been one-sided in the tackle's favor.
"That's part of the deal. All great young pass rushers go through the same thing," Marinelli said. "Now that's where the character starts to shine, the work habits, the determination each and every day, even though it's not a picnic."
To this point in camp, that character seems to be showing through.
"The biggest thing is growing every day and maturing every day, and I'm trying to. I have my flaws, but like I said I'm trying to get better."
If Gregory's own determination isn't enough, then that aforementioned support is certainly impressive. On Friday, just before practice picked up, Haley ran out into the defensive huddle and smacked the rookie upside the head.
"Just to keep my head up, ask me if I'm doing ok – bopped me in the head pretty good," Gregory said.
It's early on, to be sure, but the pieces appear to be in place for another successful No. 94 – a legacy that doesn't seem lost on the new one.
"Charles is out here, and I'm sure I'll get a chance to talk to DeMarcus at some point," Gregory said. "It's a great honor, and like I said, hopefully I can carry on the tradition, but I'm just trying to make a name for myself."